by Molly Gracey
An Exceptional Journey Through Experimental Jazz – 4.5 stars
Each overhead light of the historic Queen’s Hall started to dim slowly, and the cheers of anticipation soon radiated through the audience. The air during that moment encapsulated the perfect start to set the tone for what would be an unforgettable night of musical connection.
The electric enthusiasm in the room for Kokoroko, a West African Inspired – London-based eight-piece Afrobeat jazz group, created a unity between the crowd and band, which joyously didn’t end until the exit doors opened.
An ethereal interlude from the rest of the band welcomed the three front running ladies onto the stage, which in its set-up resembled that of a flourishing garden, complete with flowers and greenery. The ladies assisted the ensemble with their dual vocal and instrumental abilities as Shelia Maurice-Grey joined with her trumpet, Richie Seivwright on the trombone and saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi – also the leader of the Mercury Music Prize-nominated SEED Ensemble.
Once the introduction settled, Maurice-Grey teased the crowd asking the audience, “who here knows Kokoroko, and more importantly, who knows that we have our first album releasing very soon?”
I think that the response of flooding screams to her question made it even more apparent that most of the audience of that night hadn’t just stumbled upon the event by chance. Instead, the feeling of longstanding support transpired. It felt particularly special to watch this energy directed towards an up-and-coming band after what has been such a difficult time to establish a career and consistent following within the music industry due to the pandemic.
“We and going to guide you on a journey tonight”, she continued, revealing that the evening’s packed set would consist of primarily unreleased material, amongst covers and fan favourites from the small but mighty selection of the current Kokoroko library.
To my excitement, the performance truly lived up to that promise. The ebb and flow of the set generated a stylistically experimental soundscape that created harmony despite the fast-changing vibe of the tempos.
The unfamiliarity of a setlist would usually result in a much more subdued crowd. But instead, Kokoroko’s unknown music enticed everyone to dance and sing along to the melodies. Especially seen during their latest 2022 single – ‘Somethings Going On’ – the electric atmosphere of excitement from the band getting their teeth into their new material on stage spurred on the crowd. The quality of insatiable rhythm was exceptional and was indeed attested to in my favourite spotting of the evening when I noticed that the gentleman beside me, sporting a broken leg in its cast, still found power in the music to dance the night away.
Kokoroko upheld true jazz fashion in the show’s emphasis on solos in tandem with blended collaboration. The rest of the ensemble visibly enjoyed themselves, hyping up each other’s spotlight slots, dancing and vibing like they were in the middle of an actual jam session. Moreover, this worked particularly well in bringing balance to the at times unpolished aspects of the act, uniquely experimenting between the likes of bouncy bass lines from Oscar Jerome straight into the delicacy of Yohan Kebede’s keys. This touch didn’t only bring up the energy of the stage but also allowed for the strong levels of individual talent to shine through, providing an absolute masterclass in musicality.
As the set neared its close, Maurice-Grey told the crowd in a full-circle moment that “the journey was almost over”, marked by the performance of their track ‘Carry Me Home’. Upon the end of the finale, after Kokoroko had exited the stage, the erupting chants for an encore demonstrated that the Edinburgh attendees weren’t ready for the night to die down. In response, the band played two more tracks, soaking in the genuine love from the crowd as they marked it the best reception they had received. Once finished, that moment only left me with intense anticipation to see what such a promising collective does next in their journey into well-deserved success.